The economic crisis that has emerged from our current public health crisis weighs heavily on the minds of all of us. The thought of another month of closure for many segments of society can be overwhelming. Millions in lost revenue, thousands suddenly unemployed and prediction of massive budget deficits can make us sad, angry and scared. But Peorians do not give up easily, and never without a fight. In my article in last month’s GPEDC newsletter I noted that our region is no stranger to economic woes. On January 17, 1920, the vast majority of our regional economy was made illegal with the passage of the 18th Amendment. You will likely get tired of hearing my trot out that fact but it is worth reminding everyone that we’ve been here before, learned to adapt, and lived to tell the tale.
Prohibition brought out the creativity and ingenuity of Greater Peoria. Factories that once brewed beer turned to producing soda pop. Whiskey distilleries found ways to make alcohol based medicines or industrial products. In the first few weeks of our current crisis, we have seen that same entrepreneurial spirit at play, this time combined with a good dose of community mindedness. Most of you have not heard of Tada, a Peoria-based data services firm that specializes in helping large manufacturers have line-of-sight to enormous supply chains. (Tada is a member of the Greater Peoria Manufacturing Network.) As the pandemic unfolded, Tada partnered with Peoria County’s Emergency Operations Center to develop an online system to keep track of donations and volunteers and match resources with needs. They are now working with Greater Peoria EDC to develop a portal to evaluate business risk and match business owners with local, state and federal programs. All for free, I might add.
More familiar is Advanced Technology Services, more commonly known as ATS(and also a member of the GP Manufacturing Network). While the company is best known for its industrial maintenance services, it also has its own manufacturing capabilities. They turned that capability into the production of face shields for our frontline staff at hospitals, fire departments and police departments. In Pekin a similar story is being told about PAL Health Technologies, a company that normally crafts custom orthotics that has turned its machines over to making face shields as well. The owner of that company also owns Reditus Laboratories and is now helping process COVID-19 tests. And how can an article that starts with a nod to our distilling history be complete without sharing how Blackband Distillery, a small batch whiskey and spirits distiller that had yet to open its doors to the public, is making hand sanitizer and donating much of it to critical community partners.
Entire systems have had to shift in the blink of an eye. I am amazed by our public school districts, their teachers and staff who over the course of just a few weeks transformed hundreds of years of in-classroom teaching standards and practices into meaningful on-line learning. On top of that incredible shift, they also shouldered the burden of preparing food for thousands of children and then figuring out how to deliver it to their homes. Peoria Public Schools alone has provided 145,257 meals to students since the statewide COVID-19 shut-down began.
These are just a few examples of the ingenuity of Greater Peoria. We witness it every time we realize our favorite dine-in restaurant has figured out how to make their meals to go. We see it when we can suddenly take a virtual tour of the DaVinci exhibit at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. And every time you find a way to keep our business going while being stuck at home you exhibit the same creativity of our great grandparents who figured out how to survive Prohibition. There is certainly a long road ahead, but I know we have what it takes to complete the journey.